Theater Hall of the National Museum of Fine Arts
We are in April, after the most absurd year of our lives. It's been more than 12 months of something more like a futuristic B-class horror movie than the routine we remember. What we thought would be a kind of rare vacation period of a few weeks, at full speed, has been extended month by month. On the horizon we only see resignation to change in the way we relate socially and the experience of going out to listen to music or dance, among others, will never be completely the same, for better or worse.
There is no musician who does not comment on social networks how strange this drastic stop was for him and how much he had to reinvent himself and create in new directions. Those with whom I have direct contact felt at times more social communicators than musicians, more community managers what instrumentalists Some, luckily, began to experience pleasure in other tasks that were not usual for them, such as creative cooking, urban agriculture or curating and speaking for radio. But everyone, without exception, misses the contact with the public, the adrenaline of live, the nerves of playing for the fourth wall.
Probably thinking about all this, I have dreamed long and clearly that I am in a concert that is in turn different concerts. As if it were a virtual experience, the dream has scenes from at least five or six different shows, with different artists; fragments of a kind of musical revue without much connection in its script; chaotic, like dreams. The curious thing is that all those concerts took place in the same and only place, although I only realized that much later, while I was trying to remember it to tell about it: in the Theater Hall of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.
Sure, I tell myself, it makes perfect sense. I also miss live concerts in all their splendor and I do it in the double capacity of producer of many of them, but more than anything as an audience of a quantity that is hardly measurable at this point. Only there in Fine Arts I must have attended several dozen shows. Produced by me or by others, for pure pleasure, curiosity or work commitment, there hasn't been a year since I was old enough to go out alone that I haven't set foot in that small room that brings back so many memories and even sneaks into my subconscious while I try to rest.
In this reflective thread, I come to the daring conclusion that there is hardly any Cuban music lover or resident in Cuba worth his salt, who has not set foot at least once in this theater built at the beginning of the 50s of the 20th century and which began to function as a concert space even before the exhibition areas of the Museum, founded in 1954 in the place it occupies today. And there must be few Cuban instrumentalists who have not—at least once—crossed the doors with their instrument or their scores through the entrance to the Ánimas parking lot and, crossing part of the patio and the cafeteria, entered the small room directly from behind. I venture further: I think that if we could carry out a survey among customary listeners and the most furious defenders of Cuban music, about which is the most "friendly" theater for that sound event that is a concert, this one would win with an advantage over all other active theaters in the country. Perhaps its only flaw is its smallness. But (the one and a half meter little person who lives in me smiles slyly) this is also his great virtue.
The Fine Arts room experienced, from its apparent complementarity to the most important museum in the city, an active nightlife in the second half of the 1950s, forming part of the central circuit of the musical and cultural scene of a Havana that seemed not to sleep . In the 60's it was no less. Discreet and shy as it seems, she witnessed events of enormous cultural relevance (Icaic was formally founded there) and the initiation concerts of many who later became leading figures in Cuban song such as Miriam Ramos, Silvio Rodríguez, Teresita Fernández, or events such as the return of María Cervantes to the stage in 1965. There was no genre of Cuban music that was not presented there, applauded and enjoyed for more than 60 years, except when the Museum was completely closed for repairs.
One may want to listen to live music and check out the cultural billboard to find out what's on. If you want to dance, you know who to ask or where to go. But to Fine Arts (also like that, simply, we regulars call it) almost always goes away aware, to an experience that promises extreme sensitivity. And in that sense, it goes ready not so much to socialize —as happens with many musical events in other spaces—, but to put all the senses on a stage that does not reach 50 square meters and to vibrate in a rare energy with the inhabitants of the other 248 seats in the room.
The musical experience of Fine Arts begins with a small or large queue, always organized and where you find friends or people who, although they are not, should be and you know it. It continues with the smile of Tony (Antonio Hurtado) or Eugenio Chávez, sensitive and multitasking cultural managers, who organize the programming of the small theater where everyone wants to play, like an exquisite puzzle, who design the lights for the show that you are going to enjoy. , who carry out the promotion of the event, who do magic so that all those who are outside and want to enter fit in; and that after that permanent good vibe they have many hours/anger with bureaucrats and censors whom they almost always (con)win with patience, solid arguments and love for their work. It continues with the punctuality almost without exception of the start time of the concerts, violated only in cases where it pours in the city and it is known that the public is having trouble getting there. And it continues with the excellent sound quality that the room itself boasts with its structure and acoustics, and that does not detract from its equipment and staff. At least I don't remember any terrible experiences in this place, except for occasional accidents like those at the Carlos Varela concert dedicated to Santiago Feliú a few days after his death, in which an insistent feedback it became the joke that Santi was torpedoing the show from beyond the grave; or the unpleasant and unavoidable upheaval caused by an amplifier failure in the beautiful show that Miriam Ramos and Haydée Milanés gave last year.
It wasn't always like this. There were its periods of barbarism and abandonment, of people with little preparation occupying technical and managerial positions, of obsolete equipment and dirt. Luckily, either I didn't experience them or I don't remember them.
And then… there is the public. Generally silent, generally sensitive, generally complicit — although in recent years there have been more and more people with the habit of filming on their mobile phone what they should see with their eyes and hear with their soul, a practice that in my opinion should be prohibited in a site like this.
Finally, and it is something that I mention because I really like this place, it has that almost unique schedule in which other things do not happen in the city and that allows me, if I leave there in a state of grace as often happens, continue with with my partner or with a group of friends to some beautiful place in Old Havana (lucky me that I don't have to fight public transport at that time) to talk, have a drink, or recreate scenes of what I experienced, still having all the night ahead.
It is almost impossible for me to enumerate unforgettable concerts that I have witnessed in Fine Arts; there are many and I know that I will remember more and more as the time to deliver this text for editing draws near, but I do the exercise of remembering that my dream already told me collage from a few days ago, mentioning some of the most relevant for me, at least from the last 25 years: the concert for the four decades of Marta Valdés in music in 1995; the one made by Santiago Feliú in 2001 for the reopening of the recently restored theater; the return to the stage of Pedro Luis Ferrer in 2004 after years without giving public concerts in Cuba; that of Pedro Aznar in February 2007; Up into the silence with songs by Sue Herrod in December 2010; the beautiful concerts by Spaniards Javier Ruibal, Silvia Pérez Cruz and Rocío Márquez, all in 2017; that of the Brazilian Fabiana Cozza singing to Bola de Nieve in March 2018; any of the ones I've seen there by Miriam Ramos or Haydée Milanés or the one by Telmary and HabanaSana in February 2019. And I haven't included the jazz ones here. It is my favorite room for this genre and in it I have heard the best of Cuban jazz and from other parts. Much, much, much and very good jazz.
When I miss live concerts, it is there, in that little room as small as myself, that I think of, that I would like to return to. There is no other with her angel, in this city at least. If you don't believe me, ask the musicians.
 I like to think that 250 people can sit in Fine Arts, because although there are exactly 249 seats, Tupac Pinilla, installed in his wheelchair, never needed a rigid chair. It was the place where I met more times in my life with that sweet and wise soul who loved good music and who has died, too, in the fateful 2020. In addition to everything that is said here about this space, Tupac preferred it because it was (is) a fairly friendly room for people with motor difficulties who require a mobile chair, a pending issue in many of the city's theaters and venues, even those built or repaired more recently, and a topic on which Tupac told us had promised to write verbatim for this magazine.